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The Lost Art of the Makeup Compact

Unlike today, in the world of cheap production and throw away culture, makeup compacts used to be a thing of beauty, a piece of art, decorated and adorned with fine metals and stones. Compacts were cherished by women, used more than once, refilled and cared for. Some of these compacts are still floating around today, some fetching thousands of dollars because of their high-quality materials and their wonderful nostalgia.

Makeup compact

The compact first came into production in the 1920s, when the age of the flapper was in high swing. Dark eyeliner, bright lipstick, and tiny purses were all the rage. A woman of the time held few things in her purse, the most important being the compact. It was also the first time that primping one’s self in public became acceptable. Applying powder or lipstick became a fashion statement that could reflect one’s personal style, wealth, or social status, through their compact.

Van Cleef, Tiffany’s, and Yves Saint Laurent were making compacts out of 24k gold, with jewels and beautiful inlaid stones. Wealthy women would commission jewelry designers to make custom compacts, often engraved with their initials. The everyday woman’s compact was usually made of base metals like brass or silver, but still designed in an elegant fashion with decorative embellishments on the exterior. Images of flowers, animals, women and art deco motifs were regularly used, finely crafted pieces of art that could be slipped into a purse or a pocket.

Hollywood pin ups like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield were some of the first to take the shoe out of the bedroom. Once the mule made it into popular culture, women all over started to wear them. That made two problems very evident: the shoes were hard to walk in and they made a ton of click clack noise. There was a reason why they weren’t worn outside the house; it was because women couldn’t keep their feet in them!

1920s makeup compact

Design was a major component of the compact, and the exterior had to be exquisite, depicting images of all kinds, embellished with shiny gorgeous materials. Jewelry designers, watchmakers, fashion designers and artists, all had a go at creating a compact.

The compact was a tiny way to showcase a beautiful design to the masses. The design and function of the interior was the most exciting. Some compacts fit a lipstick, a powder, a mascara, a perfume and sometimes a coin purse, all into a tiny hand held box. These often included a chain so that the compact could be carried like a purse.

Others had pop up functions, where the lipstick or the powder puff would come out for easy application. Most compacts were refillable, so you could change out the lipstick for different colors or replace a powder when it was finished. Little pressure buttons or tabs were put in place to release the make up from its secure location so one could easily replace it.

Intricately designed 1960s makeup compact

Design and function were brought together in simple ways to create a lasting staple in the makeup industry; well, that is until the advent of cheap plastic and throw away production. Now compacts are not admired for the unique design but for the short-term use to stay on trend with the latest makeup fad.

Check out Ren’s latest video where she shares her collection of vintage makeup compacts!

Written By Guest Blogger: Siri H.